Parents, Reject the Fear-Mongering #TeacherMom

Phones are destroying our teens

…except that it turns out the negative connection between tech and teens’ mental health is fairly minor, according to research.

Children are being abducted on their way to school or from distracted parents…

…except that “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.”

The world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live

…except that the opposite is true. See below:

Where are his/her parents? a passer-by might wonder…

…except that unsupervised play is critical for children to develop properly.

(sidebar: isn’t it funny how despite essentially every child in human history spent their days getting dirty, it’s only now that showers are ubiquitous that we have grown uncomfortable with the idea?)

Parents are bombarded with worst-case scenarios every day. Even casual Facebook posts from a concerned friend or relative often contain terrifying videos or messages that end with “Keep your babies close.” I shared one such example with my daughter in our conversation about how strange it is that these videos go viral when they really don’t represent the actual dangers kids face today. Far more threatening to our kids are dangers of childhood diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and mental health issues that seem inextricably tied to the modern lack of childhood independence.

For those in the U.S. observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrate by saying no. Push back against those viral videos. Question the frightening headlines (see this excellent piece on zooming out for context). And above all, allow your children to experience some of the same freedoms you yourself probably had as a child. Perhaps start by asking some of these questions:

  • Does my elementary-aged child know how to navigate our neighborhood independently? Does she know where her friends and family live within a mile radius? Could she get herself home from school?
  • How might learning to ride a bicycle help further my child’s independence?
  • Has my child ever tried to earn money independently? Lemonade stands, bake sales, yard work, etc?
  • Can my child handle something risky by the same age I was permitted to as a child (starting a fire, using a pocket knife, etc)?
  • Does my child know how to go inside a store to handle purchasing something independently? How might allowing my child to help with groceries help foster their sense of competence?

What better ways to celebrate independence are there than fostering it in our children?

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Inquiry into the 4 C’s: Creativity

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the Four C’s of 21st Century Learning. For more, click here.

By far the most helpful way I’ve found to help students foster their own creativity is to openly and continually discuss my own messy and imperfect journey toward creativity with them. Until our students see its authentic application in those they trust, they will likely continue to see it as something just for those artist-type folks.

Meanwhile, these resources may serve as part of those discussions, and to help students consider what it really means for them!

Resource #1: Creative Types Personality Quiz by Adobe Create

Resource #2: Large Domino Chain: Small Actions, Large Results

Resource #3: Student Design Award Winner – Curiosity: Exploration & Discovery by RSA

Resource #4: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken & Hum & Swish by Matt Myers

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Provocation Questions:

  • Why does creativity matter in our world today?
  • Why does creativity matter for you personally? How can it impact your life? Your family? Your community?
  • How might creativity look for different people?
  • What is the connection between risk-taking and creativity?
  • What are the different perspectives on creativity in various jobs?
  • How does honoring our own creativity impact the world?

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10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation and rejuvenation. But for one group, those balmy days might be overshadowed with panic: first-time parents of kindergartners.

After all, parents today receive a steady stream of messaging that the quality of kindergarten experience can define a child’s success for the rest of forever (though I’ve argued before that this is likely more the correlative nature of having involved parents than the particulars of kindergarten).

Throw in a child who seems uninterested in identifying letters yet (much less reading), and you might get some parents on the verge of a nervous break-down.

Having waded through this quagmire with our oldest, now about to start 4th grade (and who thriving as a reader, despite initial reluctance), I’m writing today to help reassure as many stressed kinder parents as possible: you are probably doing better than you think. Here are signs that, even if your child is not yet writing their memoirs or reading Tolstoy, they are probably more prepared for kindergarten than you think:

#1: Their brains are being regularly strengthened by unstructured play. This is even more valuable when the group of children is mixed-age, which gives older children opportunities to teach younger, and younger children the chance to explore new possibilities. As cited by researchers, “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

#2: They enjoy stories (even if they aren’t sitting perfectly still for every story-time yet). This enjoyment also leads them to possess print awareness — a general feel for books turning from left to right, how to hold a book in their laps, and the presence of words on the page. Children at this age tend to make leaps forward in their development, so even if they don’t have all 52 upper- and lower-case letters down yet, if the basic pre-literacy support is there, they will get there!

#3: They are able to relate socially and emotionally to other people. When they have hurt someone, they are willing to listen and learn to consider that person’s feelings. They don’t immediately resort to biting or hitting for every offense, though this will definitely be a work in progress more for some kids more than others!

#4: They make up songs and stories with you or in make-believe play. Not only does this strengthen a child’s narrative skills (important for early literacy), but it helps them build skills for healthy social interaction.

#5: They are given as much book access as possible. Even if you do not own a lot of books, regular trips to the library can foster a love of reading that is worth its weight in gold. As the reading skills grow, it’s important for kids to have choices to find the books that will delight them.

#6: They are showing signs of building problem-solving skills. They may pull out a stool to reach something for themselves, or they may help soothe a sibling. Whatever it may be, these small signs of problem-solving are indicative of the kinds of independence that will serve them well throughout school and life!

#7: They are given opportunities to explore motor skills and balance. Tree-climbing, playdoh-smashing, curb-walking — the basics will be sufficient. Giving kids plenty of time to explore their motor skills and balance will lay a foundation for holding a pencil, for sitting up in a chair, and generally feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

#8: They are potty trained! Yes, this counts and should be celebrated as a kindergarten readiness milestone. There may still be the occasional accident, but general independence in using the toilet, as well as in dressing and eating, are good signs for readiness at school.

#9: They help out around the house. Maybe they have their small chore, or they are in charge of making their bed. Helping them gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the group will be so valuable when they gain a new community at school!

#10: You help them see what they are capable of, and they believe it! This kind of mindset is easy to take for granted if it’s present in your home, but it’s essential for kids about to embark on school. They will be discovering all sorts of tasks and ideas, and it will serve them well if they believe they can handle new things with confidence.

The nervousness in sending your oldest child to school may not go away. But I hope parents can feel a little more at ease at the prospect of kindergarten readiness and enjoy the summer together!

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How Teaching Is Like Hiking With a 2 Year-Old #TeacherMom

Make sure he knows my hand is close through this rough part. Good call–he grabbed it. Let go when he indicates he’s ready to try independently again. Stand ready with the invitation next time.

Take note of his self-talk. He’s clearly anxious about approaching the water fall. Encourage those conversations about what to expect and how it might look and feel.

Occasionally grab him when he strays precariously close to the edge of the trail, and discuss what exactly is dangerous about it.

Let him run ahead when he feels confident & I can see the path is manageable (while eagerly announcing to passing hikers, “I very fast!”)

Navigate tricky terrain together, answering his questions about what happened to the trees, helping him try out new words like “avalanche.”

We stand ready for wherever the learning may lead; extending the invitation for support, setting an environment for exploration and thinking, responding to the needs and questions that arise, intervening when serious situations arise.

It seems teacher mode and connection-making simply never turns off, not even especially on a hike with a 2 year-year old. Clearly, watching learning unfold will never stop being a thrill for me!

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Is the Mindfulness Really For Them? And Why that Matters

I shared an observation this week that generated a bit of discussion:

Mindfulness in itself is not the issue for me; in fact, I think it’s a huge part of students being able to take ownership over their own learning and to feel confident about being in the drivers seat of their own lives. The same might be said of Self-Reg, social-emotional learning, and every other related trend.

I think it’s precisely because we’re delving into students’ personal feelings that it’s so important that we get our why right. There are 2 levels working here.

First, if we’re not truly doing it for them, but we’re pretending we are, that’s emotional manipulation. Plain and simple. We might counter that if the end results are the same, it doesn’t really matter. But it does. It’s the difference between feeling that someone is nurturing you vs programming you. And kids can tell that difference.

Second, if we are looking at broad systemic issues that have less to do with learning and mindsets & more about money and race, and then we try to put that on the kids by making them more mindful of themselves…words fail me.

Issues like suspension. Where not only are black kids over-represented in suspension rates, but pretty much every other race is under-represented. Where we see the problem show up as young as preschool. We need to check our practices before trying to put this on the kids.

Or like standardized tests, which “are almost universally correlated with household income: more income, higher scores.” (Why They Can’t Write by John Warner).

Of course, we teachers only have so much control over mandates. But we can reflect upon our own why. Only then will we have the transparency and true emotional support that our students need as they wade through the system.

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5 Things That Might Be Worse Than Summer Slide

Here’s a funny thing about this post: I actually had spent the weekend questioning the idea of “summer slide” (the alleged phenomenon in which students lose 2+ months of learning from the previous school year), only to open my computer on Monday to find this post on Edutopia: “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide.'”

Here are 5 things that might be worse than that supposed summer slide:

1. Missing out on hose water, muddy hands, and grass stains.

2. Poisoned reading attitudes because of all those mandatory summer reading assignments.

3. Neglecting mixed-age & unstructured play opportunities: building blocks of childhood development that can be difficult to attend to during school months.

4. Underdeveloped balance and motor skills that interfere even with the child’s ability to sit upright once school resumes.

5. Missed opportunities to learn a new skill & develop self-regulation: riding a bike, learning to swim, even entrepreneurship.

Of course reading and math are important, and we all want to see our children grow. But growing, thriving, healthy children involves so much more than this narrow scope. Let’s not let our fear of “falling behind” get in the way of magical summers in which our kids are free to explore world around them, catching fireflies, selling lemonade, working on family projects, and starting clubs with friends. Let’s honor the many ways a child can grow throughout the summer.

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The Aftermath of Awarding $55,000 in Scholarship Funds

The past couple of weeks since announcing our scholarship awardees have been a incredible whirlwind. Most of it has been a joy as we have enjoyed the enthusiastic responses from students and their families. Some has been unfortunate as we had do deal with some plagiarism, which is always taken very seriously at HonorsGradU.

We especially love it when it works out to surprise our recipients with the news.

Xelah Baca, creator of BHS Recycle, received the news from her mentor during an awards ceremony:

And I was able to fly down to surprise Anthony Neil Tan with the news that he was selected as our top recipient during his senior awards night for his creation of the Maker Hub Club:

Check out the newly updated Past Winners page to view all 5 students’ prototypes, reflection videos, and colleges. We look forward to sharing more about the background of these 5 outstanding students this summer, and to seeing Anthony’s project grow with another fully funded iteration. Thank you again for your efforts to design a better future!

For you incoming seniors, be sure to stay tuned for the details at the end of the summer on our 2020 scholarship program!

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